19. U.S. Using Dangerous Fungus to Eradicate Coca Plants in Colombia

by Project Censored
Published: Last Updated on

MoJo Wire (Mother Jones magizine Web site), May 3, 2000
Title: Drug Control or Biowarfare?
Authors: Sharon Stevenson and Jeremy Bigwood

CounterPunch, London Observer, June 1-15, 2000 and July 2, 2000
Title: McCaffery’s Plagues: New Biowar on Drugs
Authors: Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair

London Observer, July 2, 2000
Title: U.S. Prepares to Spray Genetically-Modified Herbicides
Author: Ed Vulliamy

Corporate media coverage: Milwaukee Journal, 12/23/99, p.A8, Seattle Times, 7/2/00, p. C3, Minnesota Public Radio, Marketplace, 10/3/00

After the Project Censored Award’s deadline the following story also appeared

Inter-Presse, October 19, 2000
Plan Colombia’s Herbicide Spraying Causing Health and Environmental Problems
Author: Kintto Lucus

Faculty Evaluators: Tom Lough, Ph.D., Tom Ormond, Ph.D.
Student Researchers: Jennifer Swift, Katie Anderson

The United States plans to deploy, or may have already deployed, new biological weapons for the war on drugs that seriously threaten both humans and the environment. The bio-weapon is Fusarium EN-4, a plant fungus used in many chemical weapons developed by the United States in 1950s and 60s. Fusarium is being redesigned to attack coca, cannabis, and opium crops in producer countries in the Third World.

This work is proceeding despite evidence that the fusarium, if deployed, will have profound and disastrous impacts on the humans and ecologies of the countries in which they are used.

Pathogens developed long ago at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the center for the U.S. bio-war program, were frozen but not destroyed when the facility was closed by President Nixon in 1969. Veterans of the Soviet biological warfare effort are now working on this research with UN funding in order to shield the United States from charges of violating the internationally negotiated biological weapons convention.

Peru has already banned the testing and/or deployment of the fungi fusarium. Colombia, however, was forced to accept spraying as part of a $1.8 billion aid package that was approved in Congress in July 2000.

Mycotoxicologist Jeremy Bigwood, working with a fellowship grant to carry out research into fusarium derivatives used in biological warfare, states that the threat fusarium presents can not be fully defined because “it mutates into another organism capable of attacking many other plants.” Bigwood also states that fusarium can mutate and lethally affect humans with immune deficiencies.

Eduardo Posada, president of the Colombian Center for International Physics, found fusarium to be “highly toxic.” His data found that the mortality rate among hospital patients who were immune-deficient and infected by the fungus was 76 percent. “The mutated fungi can cause disease in a large number of crops, including tomatoes, peppers, flowers, corn and vines,” he said. He added that the mutated genus could stay in the ground for 40 years. According to Bigwood, U.S. government researchers initially insisted that the EN-4 strain was “species specific.” But, he says, there are 200 other plant species within the genus that don’t contain coca that could be affected.

Kintto Lucas reports that the Colombian military is using U.S.-supplied planes to fumigate huge areas near the Ecuador border. Border residents reported that last summer and autumn planes could be heard over Colombia, and that several people in the area have died from extensive fumigation. A Monsanto herbicide, glycophosphate, is reportedly being used, but there are fears that fusarium is, or will be used in the regional spraying as well.